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The warranty clause (1)

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12 Assyrian Identity

10 Judiciary and legislature

10 Judiciary and legislature

deeds of sale
legal traditions
Old Assyrian and Old Babylonian Empires
Middle Assyrian Empire
Middle Babylonian Empire
Neo-Assyrian Empire
Neo-Babylonian Empire
Achaemenid Empire
Hellenistic Empires
Aramaic culture

Aramaic deeds of sale include a warranty clause to guarantee the buyer against any future legal challenges to his acquisition. This clause, which appears consistently in all Aramaic deeds of sale, obligates the seller to take care of any such challenges in order to protect the buyer’s ownership rights. One characteristic feature of the warranty clause is to express this obligation through a legal metaphor using a term meaning ‘to clean’. Thus, should a claim arise, the seller must ‘clean’ the property of that claim. Here is an example from an Aramaic deed of sale from Elephantine dating to 451 BCE:

TAD B3.2, 8-9:
“If brother or sister, near or f(a)r, institute (suit) against you regarding this hyrˀ, I shall cleanse (it) and give (it) to you.”

The warranty clause has its roots in cuneiform legal traditions, as similar clauses, also using this ‘cleaning’ metaphor, are attested in cuneiform deeds of sale. Their distribution, however, is notably restricted to so-called peripheral areas, including Old Assyrian deeds of sale from Anatolia, OB Susa, Nuzi, Alalakh IV, and Middle Assyrian deeds from Ashur. Here is an example from an Old Assyrian deed of sale:

šumma mamman ana PN(P) itūwar PN(S) ubbabšu
“If anyone turns against Purchaser (regarding this sale), Seller shall clear it.”

The warranty clause also occurs in Neo- and Late-Babylonian deeds of sale, though this is likely due to Aramaic influence and thus indicates a reversing of the direction of influence. Through Aramaic, this clause would later find its way into later Greek and Arabic legal traditions as well.

Source (list of abbreviations)
TAD B3.2, 8-9


Gross 2008, 151-193Gross, Andrew D. Continuity and Innovation in the Aramaic Legal Tradition. Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 128. Leiden: Brill 2008.
Frantz-Murphy 1985Frantz-Murphy, Gladys. “A Comparison of the Arabic and Earlier Egyptian Contract Formularies. Part II: Terminology in the Arabic Warranty and the Idiom of Clearing/Cleansing.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 44 (1985) 99–114. [JSTOR (requires subscription)]

Andrew D. Gross

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